Me and my shadow
MedSpecs gives prospective med students an insider’s look at challenging profession
By Neale McDevitt
A career in medicine has its obvious payoffs in terms of salary and a certain degree of social prestige. But it also entails a significant degree of sacrifice, dedication and initial financial investment that some people would see as an obstacle. So how does a young student with no prior experience in the medical field know if this is the right career path for them before taking the plunge and applying to med school?
Enter McGill’s Medical Perspectives (or MedSpecs), an undergraduate student organization. Since 2009, MedSpecs, in conjunction with the McGill University Health Centre, has given hundreds of students invaluable experience in hospital settings to see if it’s really something they want to pursue. It’s like taking your career for a test drive before signing on the dotted line.
Canada’s one and only
MedSpecs’ unique Shadowing Program offers participants the opportunity to observe the day-to-day clinical activities of doctors, residents and medical students across a wide array of medical specialties. One of the goals of the program is to give prospective medical students first-hand insight into what a career in the health sector involves – not only the favourable aspects of the field, but also the more challenging and stressful facets of working in a medical environment. It is the only program of its kind in the country.
“Since we started the program in 2009, we’ve had 231 participants log some 1,770 hours of shadowing with preceptors from 21 different departments such as internal medicine, trauma and allergy and immunology,” says Suhair Bandeali, the Medspecs co-President who is in her final year in Nursing. “We’ve had students from just about every faculty and department come through our shadowing program, from Architecture and Arts to Music and Engineering.”
The concept is fairly simple. Participating medical professionals volunteer their time and allow interested students to follow them on their rounds for 6-8 hours a session. The program runs throughout the year – including in the summer, and is open to anyone considering applying to Med School. The only priority is given to students in their final year of undergraduate studies who are thinking of applying to medical school for the following semester.
Not Grey’s Anatomy
Not only will participants be exposed to the medical aspect of the profession, including observing surgeries and procedures like CT scans, prospective medical students also get to witness the less glamorous parts of the job, including lengthy meetings, stress and seemingly endless documentation.
“A lot of people come into this thinking it’s going to be just like Grey’s Anatomy – just working with patients all day,” laughs Bandeali. “But it just isn’t like that. A frequent comment we get afterward is ‘I had no idea there would be so much paperwork.’”
The realistic view of medicine – warts and all – is an essential part of the program as much for the students it encourages to apply to Med School as for the people it discourages. “Nothing is worse than believing this is the perfect career path for you only to realize you were wrong soon after you start your studies,” says Bandeali. “This gives people that much more experience to make informed decisions.”
And Bandeali knows of what she speaks. In 2009, she took part in the Shadowing Program at the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at the Royal Victoria Hospital soon after beginning her studies in Nursing. The one-day experience was illuminating.
Witnessing what she calls “a lengthy and intense” procedure she realized that she was not as comfortable around blood and needles as she had originally thought. But she was so taken by the dedication of the professionals working at the ICU that she decided to work through those difficulties. “I purposely chose one of my internships in the ICU,” says Bandeali, “and when I graduate later this year I have a job as a registered nurse at the ICU. The experience I had shadowing there definitely influenced my decision.”
The biggest challenge facing the Shadowing Program is recruiting new volunteers from the medical community, not entirely surprising considering the incredible demands already placed upon their time. “But the preceptors we do have are really wonderful,” says Bandeali. “They seem to enjoy sharing their knowledge and experience and turning people on to their profession. Maybe they like the idea of making sure future medical students are well-informed and know what they are getting into.”
For more info on MedSpecs and the Shadowing Program (including how to register as volunteers), go to http://ssmu.mcgill.ca/medspecs/index.html
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